CHRC call to criminalise buying sex puts sex workers at risk

Conservative Human Rights Commission’s call to criminalise buying sex is dangerous and will put sex workers lives at risk.

Sex workers, human rights organisations, trade unions and grassroots campaigners condemn Conservative Human Rights Commission (CHRC) report calling for further criminalisation of sex work

Decrim Now condemns the CHRC report ‘The Limits of Consent – Prostitution in the UK’ for failing to listen to sex workers and for seeking to further increase the violence they face due to criminalisation.

Decrim Now strongly oppose the CHRC’s call to introduce an ‘end demand or Nordic Model’ approach’ to criminalise the purchase of sex against overwhelming evidence showing that criminalisation of any kind harms sex workers by reducing their ability to work safely.

Instead, these laws increase the violence, stigma and the risk of incarceration sex workers face. In the 12 months since the introduction of the ‘sex buyer law’ in Ireland, there has been a 61% increase in violence against sex workers.

We strongly disagree that the evidence in favour of full decriminalisation is not robust and rigorously undertaken. Research by Amnesty International, the Lancet, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UNAIDS and a host of independent scholars clearly shows that decriminalisation improves sex workers safety, health and access to justice.

We welcome the CHRC’s recommendation to repeal solicitation as a criminal offence and to expunge criminal records. No sex worker should be criminalised for working outdoors, and outdoor workers are often more at risk of violence. However, we know that full decriminalisation is the only way for sex workers to fully achieve their human and labour rights.

Crucially, the report glosses over the reason that many people see sex work as their best option: poverty. There is no mention of the Conservative Party austerity policies which have been paid for disproportionately by women. Sweeping changes to welfare and disability benefits under Universal Credit and PIP, increased tuition fees and unaffordable childcare have led to more people entering the sex industry.

There is no mention that many are topping up earnings from ‘straight jobs’ with sex work to pay the bills and put food on the table as the cost of living and rents increase.

The report authors say it is not possible to consent to exploitation but ignore the exploitation many women face at the sharp end of ill thought economic and labour policies.

The number of people in the sex industry could be reduced by eradicating poverty, providing access to justice, union recognition, tangible social safety nets, investment in the NHS, free childcare and education. That the report fails to address these issues shows that the commission is not concerned with improving the lives of sex workers but only with casting a moral judgement. To seek an end to prostitution without addressing its causes is nonsensical and dangerous.

Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes said:
“The English Collective of Prostitutes gave evidence to the CHRC on the intolerable poverty faced by women as a result of conservative austerity cuts and the resulting increase in prostitution, particularly among mothers. This was ignored. Instead women are condemned for participating in our own degradation for earning a living through sex work and the irresponsbile and dangerous proposal to criminalise clients is recommended despite evidence that this would put us at greater risk of violence.”

Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release said:
“The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that the UK should adopt the Nordic model is the opposite of a human rights approach to sex work. The evidence from countries that have implemented the Nordic Model is that it puts sex workers at greater risk, pushing them further into the shadows and creating an environment where they are likely to suffer increased levels of violence. This model has nothing to do with evidence, it is an ideological and dangerous policy that does nothing to protect sex workers. A human rights approach to sex work is a decriminalised model that supports people working in the industry, reducing the risk of violence and recognising the dignity of sex workers”.

Camille Barbagallo, labour organiser, United Voices of the World said:
“In the last year, hundreds of sex workers have joined trade unions sending a clear message that what sex workers actually want are labour rights, dignity and improved safety and conditions. In a short few months, union members have won thousands of pounds in unpaid holiday pay, compensation for sexual harassment at work and union recognition in workplaces. This is just the beginning of what collective bargaining and unionisation can achieve. What workers don’t need are moral crusades and further criminalisation. What this report shows is how painfully out of touch the Conservatives are with the real issues facing many women in Britain today.”

Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party said:
“It is encouraging to see support for the protection of sex workers from the long-term stigmatisation that currently comes from a conviction for soliciting, something the Green Party has been calling for since 2012. But the logical end point of that is decriminalisation, for criminalising of clients similarly pushes activities underground, into darker and more dangerous places. Sex workers should be able to work in the safest possible conditions and have the genuine opportunity to leave if they so choose.”

Paul Sweeney MP for Glasgow North East said:
“It is appalling to read such an ignorant and dangerous analysis of prostitution. It is Dickensian in its attempt to shame women for how they earn a living. The evidence shows that the Nordic model of criminalising clients actually increases the risks faced by sex workers, rather than improving safety and working conditions. I am proud of the leadership that women workers in Glasgow have shown by forming a GMB trade union branch to fight for their rights, and I would encourage this to be taken up as a national approach.”

Decrim Now is a national coalition of sex worker groups, trade unionists, feminists and human rights organisations calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work.
Decrim Now: 07875333135//
United Voices of the World: 07981070417

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